"The ultimate goal is that if a person 75 miles from here has a patient they would just like to run by a specialist, they would have that ability to call up and say, 'Could you see this patient two hours from now via telemedicine?' " he says.
The ability for referring physicians and consulting physicians to communicate via telemedicine helps to nullify the problem of the long distances, and with pediatric cardiologists being a rarity in West Virginia, it is a good tool for adult cardiologists who lack experience with children patients.
Rhodes notes that the technology is cheaper and easier to use than ever before, with the entire setup needing only a computer and a webcam. He estimates that at least 15 centers associated with the university use telemedicine in West Virginia, and his goal is to organize and strengthen the program all over the state.
Telemedicine might help with referrals, but Rhodes also hopes that the technology can be used as a recruiting tool to attract doctors to rural areas. As director of community and rural health for WVU, Rhodes helps medical students complete their training by taking them to underserved areas to let them practice medicine in a rustic setting. "We believe that by giving the students exposure to rural communities and the benefits of being a healthcare provider in some of these smaller towns, that it might encourage them to pursue a career where they work in smaller communities and different rural areas of the state," says Rhodes.